NOTE: As the duly appointed official GOE Historian, I have provided some historical notes below based upon my own memory...which is problematic. If there were some questions as to facts in my mind, I simply made up the details, but not many. Apologies to anyone who was misplaced, misspelled, or simply missed.
It would be helpful and meaningful to every member of the GOE if those of you reading this might forward your own personal F-15 SPO recollections, stories, and anecdotes to me: email@example.com. While the following history relates specifically to the GOE, in the future we will publish a similar article on the SPO, its people and its unique existence. Your inputs to the Webpage would be invaluable.
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The Gathering of Eagles
The F-15 SPO Alumni
The first flight of the F-15 Eagle took place on 27 July 1972 at Edwards AFB, CA. This event was a thrilling experience for the 300 or so members of the SPO, which at that time was characterized by the camaraderie, enthusiasm, and professionalism that has become the fundamental trait of F-15ers everywhere. The SPO epitomized the "Can Do" attitude, and no task, whether it be directly associated with the F-15 program or whether it be creating a brand new Officer's Club (called the Fly Wright), a squash rackets court, or a full size Pan Am Clipper for the annual ASD Spring Festival was beyond the scope of the people in the organization.
It was no wonder then, some eight years after the First Flight, a group of former SPO members got together to recall old times and enjoy each other's company once again. The event was held in 1980 at the Andrews AFB Golf Club, organized by F-15ers now serving at Headquarters Air Force Systems Command, and attended by at least three former SPO Directors: Major General Ben Bellis from Germany, retired Major General Bob Scurlock from California, and Col Lloyd Wenzel from Florida. While the evening was replete with old films of First Flight, the first delivery to TAC in November 1974, and the splendidly satirical takeoff on the old SPO, the highlight of the event was the formal constitution of the SPO alumni into the "Gathering of Eagles".
After some lengthy discussion, and under General Bellis' guidance, the organization was dubbed the "Gathering of Eagles". Lloyd Wenzel was appointed the President in perpetuity, early discussions were held regarding a ten-year reunion, and a unique membership card was developed:
At that time, the idea was to establish a membership system and collect token dues of around $10 to help with communications and mailings to the F-15 alumni. The membership cards were provided upon payment of the dues.
The reference to the "Happy Few" on the back of the card was with respect to the somewhat haughty doctrine that all F-15ers would forever be a part of a unique organization…a special bond that only those who served in the SPO could ever appreciate. The quotation, from Shakespeare's King Henry V, was more of less adopted by the F-15 upon the successful completion of the PFRT for the Pratt and Whitney F100 engine in February 1972; a unique milestone in the development of the Eagle.
The concept of the Ten-Year Reunion of the Gathering of Eagles gathered momentum following the first meeting at Andrews. During the summer of 1981, Air Force Vice Chief General Bob and Greta Mathis hosted a so-called "warmup" at their quarters at Bolling AFB in Washington. For the first time, historical paraphernalia, documents and photos were exhibited, and the evening concluded with the now traditional singing of the F-15 theme song, "God Bless America".
Larry Graviss Roy Mace Gen Bob Mathis Gil and Janice Guarino
Jim Wilson Frank Grosso Paul Belmont
1982-The First GOE: Tenth First Flight Anniversary
The first Gathering of Eagles, celebrating The Tenth Anniversary of First Flight, was held in 1982 in St Louis, home of the Eagle and headquarters of McDonnell Douglas Corporation, the industrial arm of the F-15 Team. The first Gathering of Eagles, under the able leadership of Donn Byrnes, commenced with an Open House at Bob & Bonnie Drummond's on Thursday, July 22, 1982 for cocktails & hors d'oeurves at their home in Florissant. Other activities included the Thurs, 22 July 82, Balmy Open & Pool Party Friday, "Eagle Day" (tour of McAir facilities & sit down banquet in evening) and 25 July brunch, business meeting & departure from the St. Louis Marriott Hotel at the Airport.
The Eagles gathered again this year to socialize and reminisce, but this year they had a special reason for their assemblage: the tenth anniversary of the first flight of the F-15 Eagle. "A Gathering of Eagles" is a loosely knit group which includes the original nucleus of contractors and Air Force people who designed and developed the F-15 Eagle. This year, the group attracted 165 members and guests from across the country to St. Louis from 22 to 25 July for social gatherings, briefings, a MCAIR production line tour, a static display on the flight ramp and a Viking takeoff.
Fifteen Years: The Second GOE
In 1987, the venue for the Gathering of Eagles was switched to Dayton, where the SPO was still very active, and many F-15ers remained. Under the able guidance of Carol Buford, the reunion was headquartered at the Marriott Hotel near the University of Dayton. This GOE initiated many of the features that have come to be a ritual part of each reunion. Fred and Peggy Rall organized the first event, which was an Open House at the Fly Wright Club reminiscent of the many "Happy Hours" that members of the organization enjoyed in earlier times. On the next day, Friday, the "Balmy Open" golf outing recalled old SPO golf tournaments which formerly were conducted in March. On at least one occasion, the event was played in a driving snowstorm; hence establishing its designation as the "Balmy Open".
On Friday evening the GOE attended another F-15 SPO tradition, the Monte Carlo Party at the DESC Officers Club, under the perennial guidance of Tom Bahan. Saturday morning activity switched to the flight line at Patterson Field, where an Eagle static display and Bob Gobble's model airplane demonstrations were held
The GOE returned to the Holiday Inn for the Eagle Banquet on Saturday night featuring a recognition of the current SPO and its director, Mel Hahashi, a welcome to McDonnell Douglas' Don Malvern, Paul Homsher and Irv Burrows, (First Flight Pilot), and another rousing talk by Gen Bellis.
Throughout the four day GOE, the Bufords' hosted the F-15 hospitality suite, and many old time pastimes were recalled there. A video show was held presenting the aforementioned SPO Satire, and the first flight films.
The final event was the soon-to-be traditional Farewell Brunch run by Bob Gobble, which featured an F-15 SPO trivia contest. (Like, What was the main feature of the men's room at the old Fly Wright? Ans: A double urinal where the two users performed face to face). Many of the trivia questions proved to be too arcane or too complex for the group on a Sunday morning, but the brunch was another great occasion, as was the entire Fifteenthed Anniversary GOE. Dan McGrath was selected to chair the next event in five years.
Twentieth First Flight Anniversary - 1992
In 1992, the Twentieth First Flight Anniversary was again held in Dayton and this time the headquarters was changed to the Holiday Inn, which was much nearer Wright Patterson AFB and the many activities that had been arranged. Dan McGrath chaired this GOE, with great assistance from Ralph Spencer (RIP 1995), the F-15 SPO, General Ron Yates, by now Commander of Air Force Materiel Command, and all of the F-15ers in the Dayton area.
On this occasion, nearly the same schedule of events was arranged, with a change in location of the Saturday night Eagle Banquet to the Air Force Museum. Bringing a great deal of experience to the table, the same people who had created the concepts five years previously conducted the Fly Wright Opening (Rall), the Balmy Open (Valerio), the Monte Carlo Party (Bahan), the F-15 Static Display, this time under Fred Abrams, and the Farewell Brunch (Gobble). An added event was the retirement ceremony conducted by General Ron Yates for the former F-15 config puke, Lt General Dave Teal. Bev Leitschuh and the SPO Staff did a magnificent job arranging the Eagle Banquet at the Museum.
Flight line static display for the F-15 family
Also added was a Saturday afternoon Catholic Mass conducted by the official F-15 SPO Chaplain, Father Bob Bergeron. The Mass was held in a Holiday Inn meeting room known as the "Amphitheater", and Father Bergeron was compelled to comment that Christians "…usually have a certain aversion to participating in amphitheater events!"
The hospitality suite run by Jane and Dan McGrath was again a great success, Bellis, Wenzel, Rall, Buck and company managed to keep the Ship Captain and Crew game moving every night. Orthman was FTQ (failed to qualify) because he didn't make it to the reunion, but he did receive many collect phone calls at his home in California sometime after 0100 PST.
Rall Wilcox Spruill
The Eagle Banquet in the AF Museum featured a Dayton area TV personality, Jim Baldridge, as the Master of Ceremonies. The Presentation of Colors was accompanied by the trumpeteers of the Air Force Band of Flight, with the Color Guard marching in from a C-124 that was on display nearby. In recognition of its continued contributions to the GOE and to the Air Force, the F-15 Program Office was presented with a plaque featuring the hunting horn that once called all F-15ers to beer call on Friday nights in Building 50. Former Program Directors General Bellis and General Yates made the formal presentations, and the evening concludewith over 400 F-15ers joining in "God Bless America" accompanied by the AF Band of Flight.
It was during this GOE that an "Executive Committee" was established at a meeting held by President Wenzel at the Wright Patterson Officers Club. Of significant importance was the organization of the GOE into an East Coast Wing under Dan McGrath and a West Coast Wing under Harry Orthman. The underlying rationale was for the three areas to conduct GOE events around the First Flight Date of 27 July in the off years between major five-year reunions. This guidance has been since followed with intermittent success. John Buck was appointed to run the next GOE in 1997.
1997: The Golden Anniversary of First Flight
In 1997, the Twenty-fifth First Flight Anniversary GOE was again held in Dayton and followed the now traditional scenario of events. John and his trusty Dayton staff ran the show. Once again the Holiday Inn proved to be an excellent headquarters for the GOE, and the Hospitality Suite was the focus of much of the off duty time for the participants.
Thursday 24 July 1997: Fly Wright Club registration and beer call. Fred and Peggy Rall did their thing.
Dave & Nancy Teal Dan McGrath Scot Wille Carol & Peet Odgers
Fly Wright 24 July 1992
Jack Morris Harry Orthman Peg Rall Fred DeGroot Bob Drummond
Friday 25 July 1997: The Balmy Open at the Wright Patt Golf Club
An added feature this year was a unique Commemorative Ceremony held at the grounds of the Air Force museum and the dedication of a special Eagle Memorial on Friday afternoon.
Friday night: Monte Carlo Party; Bahan got to do it again
Saturday 26 July 1997: Flight Line Static Display of the Eagle under Bob Keleher.
Saturday afternoon Mass with Father Bergeron
Father Bob Bergeron John Buck
Wensel Orthman Mirth
Saturday night: The Eagle Banquet in the Air Force Museum chaired by Peet Odgers. General Bob Mathis, SPO Director in 1976, reminisced on the F-15 Program Office and its contributions to the Air Force, the country and National Security.
Sunday 27 July 1997: Farewell Brunch, again run by Bob Gobble. and featured a presentation to Harry Orthman of a refilled bottle of specially aged "Config Wine".
The GOE Executive Committee selected Dave Teal to volunteer for the next five-year anniversary which is set to begin on 25 July 2002 once again in Dayton. The 30th First Flight Anniversary Committee has made all the important early arrangements, and with the team from earlier GOE reunions pretty much in place, we can all look forward to another great time."